cover image The Hungry Ghosts

The Hungry Ghosts

Julius Lester, , illus. by Geraldo Valério. . Dial, $16.99 (40pp) ISBN 978-0-8037-2513-3

Lester’s (John Henry ) yarn straddles the line between folktale and modern ghost story. It’s set in the present—the hero, Malcolm David, has a computer in his bedroom—but Valério’s (All Aboard for Dreamland! ) naïve artwork makes joyful use of indigenous art while Lester’s sentences resonate with the rhythms of oral storytelling. Malcolm David, who has soulful brown eyes and a potato-shaped nose, discovers bewigged and top-hatted ghosts Jessica, Byron and Lamont after hearing them howl in the cemetery “where the tombstones gleamed dully like broken dreams.” They’re not scary—they’re just hungry, and it’s up to Malcolm David to feed them (the ghosts of people eat the ghosts of food, readers discover). The story combines realism (his mother tells him to clean his room) with fantasy (he has a time-keeping ringring bird). Lester’s prose makes even falling down a fresh experience (“With one foot wanting to go forward and the other wanting to go backward, and him just wanting to go, he tripped and fell”), and Valério’s turquoise and cobalt blue spreads deepen the atmosphere of cheery haunting. Ages 3–5. (Aug.)